The Buzz

Ashford & Simpson's 'solid' songwriting life

The list is golden - or in today's terms, platinum.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

Diana Ross.

Ray Charles.

They each had star-making help from Ashford & Simpson, one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in popular music history.

And they can sing, too.

Ashford & Simpson will perform tonight at the "Legends Of ..." concert, the annual fundraiser for the Auntie Karen Foundation, a charitable corporation that seeks to educate through the arts.

In six years of hosting the concert, the foundation has consistently delivered legends to the Koger Center stage as Roberta Flack, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Patti Austin, Joe Sample and George Duke have performed.

In this era of auto-tuned singing and assembly-line songwriting, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson epitomize this loosely used appellation: artist.

"It's a double-edge sword if you can sing," Ashford said. "Sing your own material. Somebody has to sing it."

"Most artists' strength is when they don't have to depend on a song from somebody else," Simpson added.

Ashford & Simpson were happy to aid artistic dependency, though.

In 1966, Charles scored a hit with "Let's Go Get Stoned." That led to a deal with Motown Records and working with Terrell and Gaye, before Gaye found his songwriting voice on the 1971 album "What's Going On."

Ashford & Simpson penned indelible hits such as "Your Precious Love," "You're All I Need to Get By" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" for the duo.

When Ross broke from The Supremes in 1970 to establish a solo career, Motown contracted Ashford & Simpson to assure a successful transition. The first single of Ross' self-titled debut was "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" which was followed by "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," originally a hit for Gaye and Terrell.

Ashford & Simpson were able to write hits, including Chaka Khan's breakout "I'm Every Woman," with what seemed like ease, but who were they writing for?

For the singers, themselves or just for art's sake?

"All three ways," Ashford said. "Most of the time we write for the love of writing and hope someone (likes it)."

"With Diana, we knew we were writing songs for her," Simpson added. "Most of the time, you don't know where the music will lead you.

"You let it happen."

Ashford, who was born in Fairfield, enjoyed a South Carolina connection at Motown. James Jamerson, bassist for The Funk Brothers, Motown's house band, was a native of the state.

"He's the greatest," said Simpson, who asked for the address of the South Carolina Hall of Fame when told Jamerson was not a member.

"He did all of our records."

Unlike Jamerson, Ashford doesn't have family still living in South Carolina.

"If they are, they're so distant. It would be hard to locate them," he said.

"Maybe they'll turn up, honey," Simpson said.

They shared a story - and a laugh - about someone named Dimples who thought Ashford should remember them.

Many will remember the duo for their chart-topping 1984 hit "Solid," a song that used echoing syllables - rock, rock, rock and hot, hot, hot - long before the ella, ella, eh of Rihanna's "Umbrella."

If you're wondering, it was The-Dream, a singer better known for his songwriting, who wrote "Umbrella" and its popular hook. While the look of performers may change, the sound and style of music is dictated by the writers.

And, if you've tuned into urban radio recently, there's no mystery about today's songwriting trends: clubs, sex and more sex.

Where is the love?

"The hardest thing is keeping the heart in it," Simpson said of today's writing and production. "Maybe there's speed gained. There's a little bit of heart loss and that's what I think can't be replaced."

Ashford pointed this out: Besides music critics, who else is complaining about radio music?


But when it comes to music for this writer, there ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

IF YOU GO: Ashford & Simpson

WHEN: 8 tonight

WHERE: Koger Center, 1051 Greene St.

TICKETS: $31 to $56

INFORMATION: or (803) 251-2222